Minister warns students over criticism

How do you read the South African Students’ Congress’s opposition to your appointment?
It is in the nature of students to raise these kinds of concerns. It is based on the frustration that continues to haunt them in the institutions of higher learning. That is why I have not felt it necessary to respond to them.

But we will not tolerate it when they seek to undermine the president and question his capacity to appoint members of the executive. That cannot be allowed. The president has the prerogative and I believe he was able to consult extensively.

Criticism sometimes helps, because it makes you vigilant and deliver at pace. I have not read any sinister motives into it.

It is your skill and experience that is under scrutiny. What do you bring to the department?
I bring a lot of energy because I am a young ­person. But I have no vision because the department has a vision; it has an existing vision and mission.

I have in-depth understanding of what students in institutions of higher learning go through because I have been there myself. I have seen students being academically excluded. I bring that knowledge and experience of student life into the department.

I would have thought that the congress would have wanted to take advantage of that, appreciating that I am from its ranks. I have been to an institution of higher learning and therefore I understand their needs.

The concern is that you were appointed ­primarily for raising a factionalist hand in the ANC and not on merit.
People say I support the president. Who else should I support? I support the leadership as elected by the Polokwane conference. I do not see how supporting the president of the ANC, the president of the republic, is factional. As I said, people may criticise, but they must not undermine the authority of the president. I would not know what factionalist stunt I pulled to get appointed.

It is said that the ‘stunt’ was to break ranks with the leadership of the ANC Youth League and vehemently support Julius Malema’s expulsion.

I never supported the expulsion of Malema. However, I made it clear that we cannot be seen, as the youth league, to be defying the ANC’s decisions. I stand by that. If that is seen as support for the expulsion of Malema, people can interpret it that way. We respect the decision of the ANC because we are the youth league of the ANC. Its ­decisions are binding.

You talk a lot about understanding student life, so what should be done to improve the access to universities and students’ academic performance?

I am as passionate about free education as I was when I was in the students’ congress. We are moving towards free education, if you look at the trend in FET [further education and training] colleges. We will need a lot of money to fully introduce free education, so we must look at where we will get the money.

One of the problems we are battling with as a country is the absence of master’s and PhD students and graduates. It makes me wonder where we are going to get qualified lecturers for the [two new universities planned in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape] when we have a shortage of PhD graduates.

It is about encouraging young people to study at postgraduate level, because that is where we will draw academics from to place in the different institutions.

It is the same problem we have at FET colleges. We do not have proper academic acumen among our lecturers, hence the colleges are not attractive. I believe sector education and training authorities are doing a lot of [good] work, but we are faced with corruption there.

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Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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